By Joseph Ametepe
Dear Friends, Followers of Christ, and Fellow Believers in the Fold and Flock, Fellowship and Family of God,
With a glad and grateful heart, I praise and bless the Lord my God for giving His chosen, consecrated and cherished children (Col. 3:12) another marvelous opportunity of celebrating the birth of His only Begotten Son, the Blessed One, the Beautiful One, the Builder and the Bridegroom of the Church! For this year’s celebration of God’s GREATEST and GLORIOUS GIFT to mankind, that is, God becoming one of us in the Person of the Lord Jesus Christ, the Spirit of God led me to focus on Matthew 2:7-12, which is part of Matthew’s account of the Magi’s visit. It is a passage of vivid contrasts because it relays the vivid contrast between the secrecy of Herod and the sincerity of the Magi. It reveals the vivid contrast between Herod, a false worshiper and the Magi, true worshipers of Christ. It also reminds us of the vivid contrast between the plot of Herod and the purpose of God.
As I prayed, pondered, and pored over this passage, the Holy Spirit brought to light an important spiritual truth: true celebration of the birth of Christ, the Prince of Peace, centers on the glad and genuine worship of who He is. Simply put, Christmas ain’t Christmas unless Jesus is honored for who He really is. With hearts overflowing with joy – the Magi showed us what true celebration of the birth Jesus is all about! The Bible’s description of their celebration of the birth of the Messiah, at the First Christmas focuses on their hearty, heartfelt, humble and honest worship of who He really is! This Christmas story begins with the PRETENSE OF HEROD THE GREAT. “Then Herod secretly called the Magi and determined from them the exact time the star appeared” (Matthew 2:7). Please pay close attention to the word “secretly” [Greek: lathra]. It also means privately, privily, confidentially, or quietly without the knowledge of others. You see, Herod’s secrecy reveals that his motive was deceitful and devious. At a secret meeting between the Magi and Herod, Herod craftily sought to know the time of the appearing star. The verb translated “determined” [Greek: akriboo], also means carefully inquire, ascertain exactly, accurately, or find out. The point here is that Herod was not only crafty and cunning, cruel and cold-blooded, but he was very calculated. Herod was not going to accept anything less than the precise minute, hour, day, month, and year on which the star appeared. Herod wanted to know even the very second the star appeared in the sky. It is generally believed that the Magi didn’t arrive in Jerusalem until at least a year after the appearance of the star. Herod was a shrewd schemer and a sham. “And he sent them to Bethlehem and said, ‘Go and search carefully for the Child, and when you have found Him, report to me, so that I too may come and worship Him,’” (Matthew 2:8). Herod put on a false front before the Magi. Herod did not want to worship Christ, the King of the Jews – He was lying. You see, this was a trick to get the Magi to return to him and reveal the whereabouts of the newborn King. Herod wanted to kill the Child (see Matthew 2:13-15), whom He saw as a potential threat to his throne. So let’s not miss the point here. Herod was a big time pretender.
Having exposed Herod as a pretender, the Bible turns our attention to the PERSEVERANCE OF THE MAGI. I personally thank God for the Magi because their lives vividly demonstrated what perseverance in the Christian life is all about! In the first part of verse 9, we read these brief but blessed words: “After hearing the king, they went their way” (Matthew 2:9a). These words are so precious. You see, in spite of their disappointment of not seeing the King of the Jews upon their arrival in Jerusalem, the Magi stayed the course of seeking and pursuing Jesus. They persisted. They pressed on. They persevered with all diligence. They didn’t quit in their quest to see the King of the Jews. Just think about the persevering spirit demonstrated by the Magi in their pursuit of King Jesus. Have you thought of what trouble it must have cost these wise men to travel from their homes to Jerusalem and then to Bethlehem? Have you thought of how many weary miles they must have journeyed? Have you thought of the many months they must have traveled over desert wasteland on possibly camels’ back, and not cars? Have you thought of the dangers they must have faced traveling thousands of miles that were infested by bandits? Yet none of these things moved the wise men from the east. You see, they had set their hearts on seeing “Him who has been born King of the Jews” (Matthew 2:2). And they never rested until they saw Him. That, I tell you friends and fellow believers, is perseverance. What about you and me? What spiritual diligence do we show in seeking and pursuing Jesus? What persistence do we display in following hard after the Person of the Lord Jesus Christ?
Since the Magi were sincere and stayed the course in their search for the King of the Jews, God assisted them. That is why the Christmas story brings us to the PROVIDENTIAL GUIDANCE OF GOD. Oh how wonderful is the Lord our God! He delights in using any and all things to providentially guide those who are sincerely seeking Him. This is exactly what we see in our Christmas Story. God would use “the star” as “His heaven-sent GPS” to guide the Magi to the exact place where they would at last come face to face with “Him who has been born King of the Jews.” Notice what the Bible says about the reappearance of the star: “and the star, which they had seen in the east, went on before them until it came and stood in the place where the Child was” (Matthew 2:9b). Please notice that “the star” is used three times in our passage (vv. 7, 9, 10). It was first mentioned in (Matthew 2:2). So in total, it was used four times. The repetition was to emphasize God’s providential guidance of the Magi to find the exact location of Jesus, the King of the Jews. Commenting on the star, Henry H. Halley writes: “The star that the wise men saw was no doubt a distinct phenomenon, a supernatural light, which by a direct act of God, went before them, and pointed out the exact spot; a supernatural announcement of a supernatural birth.” Taking the reappearance of the star as a confirmation of God’s providential guidance on their quest to see “Him who has been born King of the Jews,” led to the rejoicing of the Magi. This is exactly what we see in verse 10. “When they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy” (Matthew 2:10). Their perseverance in seeking Jesus with all their heart has borne fruit. They were not at all disappointed. May I say to us, no one who has set his or her heart on sincerely seeking Jesus will be disappointed! Rather, he or she will be overjoyed at finding Jesus.
Our Christmas story now brings us to the crowning moment of the Magi’s diligent pursuit of Jesus, that is, their PASSIONATE WORSHIP OF JESUS. The Bible’s vivid description of how the Magi poured out their hearts in passionate and true worship of Jesus for who He was is remarkable and revealing. “After coming into the house they saw the Child with Mary His mother; and they fell to the ground and worshiped Him. Then, opening their treasures, they presented to Him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh” (Matthew 2:11). Please notice very carefully that the Bible clearly specified the place where the Magi found Jesus on that memorable day. It was in a “house” [Greek: oikian], not in a manger. Most Christmas cards show the wise men coming to the stable. That, my friend, is not the true depiction of the Magi’s visit to Jesus. You see, some time had elapsed since the birth of Jesus in a manger and the family was now settled in a house. Please notice also the preeminent position of the Christ-Child. The Christ-Child is given first place over Mary, His mother. In fact, whenever Matthew mentions Mary in connection with her Child, Christ is always given first place (see Matthew 2:11, 13, 14, 20, 21). Five times Matthew, under the leading of the Spirit, maintained the order “the Child and then Mary.” You see, ordinarily mention would be made of a mother first, then her child. But you know and I know that this Child is Unique. He is special and must be given first place. That is why the wise men would worship Jesus not Mary or Joseph. Somehow, in their heart of hearts, the wise men knew that it is Jesus, and Jesus alone, who deserves our praise and worship, both now and to the day of eternity, not Mary or Joseph. Now observe what the Bible reveals about their passionate worship of Jesus. “And they fell to the ground and worshiped Him” (Matthew 2:11b). Remember that in Matthew 2:2, the Magi clearly and concisely stated that their purpose in coming all the way from the east was to worship King Jesus. Now, we see them actually doing just that. You see, they did not merely talk a good game. They also walked the walk. In fact, their worship of King of Jesus wonderfully foreshadowed the worship of Jesus by all Gentile nations. In their passionate worship of Jesus, the Bible describes them literally “falling down” – [Greek: pesontes] – which means to throw oneself to the ground as a sign of devotion, before high-ranking persons or divine beings. In their passionate worship of Jesus, the wise men held nothing back as they literally prostrated themselves before the Christ-Child to give Him humble, heartfelt, hearty, honest worship. You see, the wise men understood that the celebration of Christ's Birth is a story of worship. Their worship of Jesus is remarkable and revealing because they worshiped Christ before He would ever pray as the God-Man to the Father. They worshiped Christ before He would ever preach the gospel with divine authority. They worshiped Christ before He would ever prophesy of the end of the age. They worshiped Christ before He would ever pardon sin on earth as the Son of Man. They worshiped Christ before He would ever perform miracles affirming His deity or divinity. They worshiped Christ before He would ever promise eternal life as the true God. They worshiped Christ before He would ever pronounce to the Jews: “Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was born, I am” (John 8:58). They worshiped Christ before He would ever pay for our sin debt in full – as the God-Man and the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world – whose sacrifice alone fully satisfied the Father’s wrath against your sins and my sins. May I say to us, passionate was their worship. Pure was their worship. And profound was their faith which they demonstrated on that historic day in the little town of Bethlehem. You see, the wise men worshiped Jesus before He convincingly showed Himself to a watching world that He is indeed the God-Man - fully God and fully Man. Please notice also that their passionate worship led to the presentation of gifts to the Christ-Child. The Magi traveled thousands of miles to see the King of the Jews. When they finally found Him, they responded with profound joy, passionate worship and presents. The three gifts presented by the Magi namely, gold, frankincense, and myrrh, perhaps gave rise to the legend that there were three “wise men.” But you would notice that the Bible does not indicate the number of the Magi. Moreover, the Bible does not say that they were kings.
This lovely Christmas story ends with the PERSONAL WARNING OF GOD GIVEN TO THE MAGI. “And having been warned by God in a dream not to return to Herod, the Magi left for their own country by another way” (Matthew 2:12). The wise men were honest and generous people. But it seemed they lacked spiritual discernment. They had failed to see what Herod was actually up to. Herod had succeeded in pulling the wool over the eyes of the wise men. Using a dream, God personally warned the wise men not to return to Herod, the sly, sleek and smooth talking king. The wise men obediently returned to their homeland by another route. The spiritual lesson here is that: God’s plan will always prevail over the enemy’s wicked plot against His child. God outwitted Herod the trickster and overturned his clandestine plot against “Him who has been born King of the Jews.” Oh child of God, may you be encouraged today and assured that God knows when to step in and overthrow the wicked plots of the enemy against you. Some Bible teachers find significance in the Magi’s return by another route. Finding Jesus may mean that your life must take a different direction, one that is responsive and obedient to God’s Word. In what ways has Jesus affected the direction of your life?
So how does this Christmas message apply to God’s believing people today? Confess to Jesus today all the ways you pretend to be something you are not and receive His free and full forgiveness. You see, you will, and I will eventually be exposed for putting on a false front sooner or later. Just ask Herod! Consider carefully before Jesus today whether you are staying the course of seeking Jesus Himself to be your one and only true satisfaction in life, of loving Jesus, of living for Jesus, of listening to Jesus, of looking to Jesus, of learning at Jesus’ feet. Is your perseverance or spiritual diligence evident to others? Count on God to guide you into His purpose for your life so that your life will make a difference for eternity. Commit yourself today to following God’s leading in your life even as the wise men did – allowing no disappointment or difficulty from stopping them from seeking, seeing, and surrendering their hearts to Jesus! Celebrate Jesus with passionate worship for who He really is, not only during this Christmas season, but every single day of your life until you see His blessed face in glory! Remember, Christmas ain't Christmas unless Jesus is honored for who He really is. Claim with calm assurance today that God’s plan for your life will prevail over the enemy’s wicked plot against you.
Now if you are not a born again believer in Jesus may I humbly and honestly say to you today that God doesn’t want you to miss out on the true celebration of Christmas – that is, honoring Jesus Christ for who He really is. God is inviting you to the party, to the celebration of His Son. Oh how He loves you and me! He’s prepared everything for you to join and enjoy the party. All He requires of you is to believe. Believe today that Jesus died on the cross for your sins. Believe today that Jesus was buried to put away your sins. Believe today that Jesus rose again from the dead on the third day to bring you to a right standing with a holy and righteous God and you will be saved and set apart for His purposes, not only in this life but also in the life soon to come!
Have a marvelous and meaningful celebration of our Lord’s birth and a fruitful and fulfilling New Year!
In Christ’s unending and unfailing love for us,